Football legend, Reggie White, UT All-American and 7 time All-NFL, died Sunday, Jan. 6, of possible respiratory complications of sarcoidosis at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had turned 43 years old on Dec. 19.
He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was a graduate of Howard High School.
His football talents took him from Knoxville, where he played for the University of Tennessee Volunteers to an initial spot in Memphis with the Showboats. From there, he went to the Philadelphia Eagles and on to the Green Bay Packers as defensive end. He led that team to its 1997 Super Bowl win, their first in 30 years. He also played one season with the Carolina Panthers, ending his football career at the end of the 1999 season.
White was connected with the controversial Inner City Church in Knoxville during the mid-1990s. He served that congregation as Associate Minister until the church fell victim to an arson-related fire on Jan. 8, 1996. Following the church burning,
White was heavily involved in fund raising efforts intended to provide the worshippers with a new building.
The funds, estimated to be millions of dollars, included contributions from the University of Tennessee and assistance through the efforts of Reverend Jesse Jackson, who came to Knoxville to support Reverend David Upton and White. Subsequent controversy over the disposition of the money followed. Jerry Upton, a church administrator, pled guilty in 2000 to drug trafficking and gun possession after admitting to spending the money collected for the church on crack cocaine both for his own use and for resale. He is now in federal prison. To date, the Inner City Church has not been rebuilt.
In addition to his sports acumen, Reggie White, along with his wife, Sara, helped to found Urban Hope. This Green Bay organization has encouraged and equipped a diverse array of entrepreneurs to establish more than 400 small businesses.
Due to his illustrious football career, all major media outlets covered the news of his passing. Coverage included not only the litany of football credits, but also White’s longtime efforts as a Christian minister.
Frequently referred to as “the minister of defense,” alluding to both his football and evangelical endeavors, he was outspoken in his criticism of gay activists and has repeatedly been described as homophobic by a number of sources.
One quote attributed to White reads as follows: “Gay activists are trying to force their agenda on our children and on society, and it bothers me. When you look at the gay agenda, their thing is that they deserve the same rights as other minorities, particularly black people. That is very offensive.”
News of homophobic speech by White came to light after he addressed the Wisconsin Legislature in 1998. His speech includes numerous references to homosexuality as sin. At one point, he even ascribed the state of the nation to homosexual behavior on the part of citizens.
“We allow rampant sin, including homosexuality and lying," White said, "and because it has run rampant in our nation, our nation is in the condition it is today."
White was buried in Charlotte, North Carolina on Dec. 30, 2004, following a private funeral service at University Park Church.
Beth Maples-Bays can be reached at [email protected].